KEEPING TRACK- Ohio University Athletic Department's Worst Decision
Reprinted from RUNOHIO January 2008 - Ohio University Athletic Department's Worst Decision
January 25th will mark the first anniversary of one of the worst decisions that the Ohio University Athletic Department ever made - dropping the men's track and field program.
As I biked through the beautiful Ohio campus last summer and passed the track complex, a feeling of sadness and anger overcame me; sadness because the experience of thousands who were directly or indirectly involved with the program will never be duplicated by young men again, and sadness because, when a program is dropped, the acknowledgment of its very existence is lost. There is no mention of teams at Marshall or West Virginia on their respective school websites. As the years go by and those who competed are no longer here, the teams will be forgotten. In a generation or two, all victories, rewards, league championships, and All-Americans will be forgotten. Future generations will not even know that the sport existed unless they go into the archives. This is unfair to the men like Stan Huntsman, Elmore Banton, Les Carney, and many others who worked tirelessly as coaches or athletes to make Ohio University and its track and field program one of the best in America.
The pride of athletic alumni is strong. In a recent article in the Ohio publication, OHIO TODAY, former members of the baseball team met to remember and honor their late coach, Bob Wren, who symbolized everything good about Bobcat athletics. One alum put it this way, "When Coach Wren was around the golf outing, he used to say, 'You honor each other by being here.'" Unfortunately, former track team members will not have such opportunities. Young men throughout southern Ohio and the region will not experience the feeling of such pride.
In conflict with the feeling of sadness that I felt on that bike trip, I also felt a sense of anger towards those who made this unfortunate and devastating decision. The uncaring administrators who made the final call did not see the far- reaching consequences of their actions. This writer in a recent phone call from the university concerning fund raising repeated an example of a consequence of this action. In a calm, professional manner, I simply stated that I would never give another dime to Ohio University, unless the men's track program was reinstated. I hope others will join me in this action.
Sadly, as the years go by and the emotions soften, I fear that many will allow the memories to fade and their actions diminish. I am certain that this is exactly what the "executive branch" is counting on. Unfortunately, this trend has occurred at some schools that have experienced the loss of their programs.
The National Federation of State High School Associations recently released information concerning the number of participants in high school sports. According to this group, outdoor track has shown a six-year INCREASE of participants of 10.2%, with 544,188 boys taking part. According to the NFHS boy's track and field ranks third, behind football and basketball, in the number of student athletes participating in a high school sport. Also, there are more high schools that offer boy's track and field than football. Wouldn't you think that University administrators would reevaluate their misguided decision as they deny opportunities to a sport that spans all levels of diversity at state universities?
In closing, I would like to point out another example of the financial impact of dropping a sport. According to Bob Parks, the ultra successful former coach at Eastern Michigan University, the track team at Western Michigan, where he served as an assistant, had a roster of 100 young men, with 90% paying for their educations. That would be nearly one million dollars by today's standards. Ohio may not have had 100 on their roster, due to another bad idea, roster management, but the majority of those on their roster were paying for their tuition, room, board, and books. Many of these athletes would not have attended Ohio if it had not been for the track program.
If you care about our sport and its future, don't let the fight to bring back track and field at Ohio University, Bowling Green State University, University of Toledo, Western Michigan University, Ball State University, Marshall University, West Virginia University, or any other institution, end after the initial emotional reaction occurs. Track and Field, "The Mother of All Sports," has been in existence for thousands of years. Don't let poor decisions of a few individuals extinguish the flame.
Yours in track,
Editor's note: Rod O'Donnell has served as the head cross- country coach and track and field coach at both Caldwell and Hudson High Schools. He has also led teams from Kent State, Marshall University, and Rio Grande College. In 13 years of coaching high school cross-country, Rod has coached seven District Championship teams, and four Regional Champion teams. He has had eight State Meet appearances where his teams have placed 14th, 8th, 7th, 5th, 10th, 2,nd with two first place finishes. In addition, one of his runners, Wesley Smith was the 2002 State Champion and Footlocker runner-up. While at Hudson, Coach O'Donnell has had 17 State Meet qualifiers as well as the State Meet Champion in both the 3200 M. and 1600 M.
While at Kent State, he was named MAC Coach of the Year twice. Rod had 27 NCAA qualifiers in track and cross-country and 11 All-Americans. At Marshall, Rod was also named Coach of the Year twice in the Southern Conference. His teams had 25 Conference Champions and three NCAA qualifiers. He started the women's cross-country program at Marshall, in addition to starting the cross-country program at Caldwell High School in 1971. In 1973, his team won the State Championship and had a dual record for three years of 38-0. Overall, Coach O'Donnell has a high school dual record in track of 71-21 and 81-6 in cross-country.
Rod is always willing to help others in the field, and he has written many articles and has spoken at many clinics, encouraging others to given back to the sport.
Editor's note: Articles on Ohio University and other Mid American Conference universities dropping Men's Track and Field:
Bringing Back OHIO Track web site: http://bringingbackohiotrack.blogspot.com